Centre for Educational Research and Innovation - CERI

Strategic Education Governance - Background


Governing education systems is complex. Today, governance processes involve a substantial number of stakeholders inside and outside the government administration, interacting with each other in many different ways. They do so across often several levels of governance and with different short- and long-term goals. Relationships among these stakeholders are increasingly dynamic and interconnected. Against this background, a central question for governance is how systems can provide high quality educational opportunities for all in this challenging environment.

Strategic Education Governance (SEG) addresses the need to develop flexible and adaptive governance processes for more effective and lasting reform in today’s complex education systems. It aims to help countries develop smarter governance arrangements, sensitive to context and capable of delivering improvement by building upon robust knowledge systems, stakeholder involvement and meaningful accountability.


Complexity theory and governance

Complexity theory helps to make sense of the functioning of systems in education governance. The complexity paradigm conceptualises systems as being defined by the relationships between their constituent elements. As such, systems exhibit characteristics that emerge from their components interacting dynamically with each other, in turn leading to emergent properties of systems that cannot be anticipated by analysing the system’s elements in isolation. Related concepts pertain to self-reinforcing dynamics, tipping points and inertia that needs to be overcome to engender lasting change.

The study of complex systems requires a step back to examine how the various interconnections form a coherent whole, in what way existing processes facilitate or hinder this coherence, and how best to develop new forms of governance that take this complexity into account. This forms the foundations of strategic education governance and informs the analytical approaches applied in SEG work.


Previous work on governing complex education systems

The SEG project builds on the empirical and conceptual work carried out during CERI's Governing Complex Education Systems project (GCES), which ran from 2011-2016. The GCES project highlighted the increasingly complex nature of the systems in which governance processes are embedded, and analysed the implications of such complexity on the effectiveness of existing governance arrangements.

Central to the GCES project was the use of complexity theory to analyse and improve understanding of governing education systems effectively and the role that knowledge has in this endeavour.

Two volumes synthesise this previous work:


Strategic Education Governance Image


Further Reading

  • The SEG Primer introduces the conceptual foundations underpinning the OECD Strategic Education Governance project (SEG) (pdf)
  • Mason, M. (2016), “Complexity theory and systemic change in education governance”, in Burns, T. and F. Köster (eds.), Governing Education in a Complex World, OECD Publishing, Paris,
  • Snyder, S. (2013), “The Simple, the Complicated, and the Complex: Educational Reform Through the Lens of Complexity Theory”, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 96, OECD Publishing, Paris,


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